NM Environment Review: Feds release revised Waters of the US Rule, plus Space Force and angry dairy owners

All week, we look for stories that help New Mexicans better understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around the region. Thursday morning, that news goes out via email. To subscribe to that weekly email, click here. Here’s a snippet of what subscribers read this week:

We’ve got an essay we hope you’ll read this week, “The Wonder of Water.” And as it turns out, early Thursday morning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released to the Federal Register the official revised definition of the “Waters of the United States.”

• In eastern New Mexico, the owners of Highland Dairy sued the manufacturers of PFAS products that contaminated groundwater below Cannon Air Force Base. According to MyHighPlains.com, the dairy owners “claim they were notified in November that their milk would no longer be purchased” and said prior to that, they sold about 15,000 gallons of milk per day.

The wonder of water

“How’s your day today?” the grocery store cashier asks. “Oh my God,” I can’t stop myself. Even though I know the checker wasn’t expecting anything more than the requisite, “Fine and you?” response. I launch into a hand-waving homage to the day: I just got back from the Sandias, where there’s this little spring, and I learned the coolest thing. Scientists can tell if springs, like that come out of the mountain…they can figure out if that groundwater came from summer monsoons, or from winter snowmelt. Because get this: They study the water’s isotopes.

NM Environment Review: a record-breaking 2018, Roundhouse low-down + more news

All week, we look for stories that help New Mexicans better understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around the region. Thursday morning, that news goes out via email. To subscribe to that weekly email, click here. Here’s a snippet of what subscribers read this week:

If you missed our coverage of Holloman Air Force Base, we have two stories this week, one on a 2018 report documenting groundwater contamination from PFAS at Holloman, and a second from this morning on the state’s order to the Air Force on cleanup. And there’s plenty more news around New Mexico, too.

State to Air Force: Clean up contamination at Holloman

The state of New Mexico has responded to reports of groundwater contamination at yet another Air Force base—this time, Holloman Air Force Base. On Wednesday, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) issued a notice of violation against the U.S. Air Force over groundwater contamination at Holloman, which sits on nearly 60,000 acres just outside the City of Alamogordo. “We are dismayed by the Air Force’s lack of prompt response to the contamination found at Holloman and will use all avenues available to us to hold the military accountable and make affected New Mexicans whole again,” said NMED Secretary-designate James Kenney in a press release from the department. “This Notice of Violation is a step toward ensuring that happens.”

A November 2018 Air Force site inspection report showed contamination levels in some areas at Holloman are 18,000 times the federal limit for PFAS. PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of human-made chemicals, and include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).

2018 report shows off-the-charts contamination in Holloman AFB water

The groundwater below Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo tested positive for hazardous chemicals—and the contamination levels are more than 18,000 times higher than what the federal government says is safe.  

A November 2018 site inspection report provided to the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), and obtained by NM Political Report this week, details the contamination. Currently, the state is trying to understand the extent of the problem and what might be done. According to the report, in 2016, the U.S. Air Force identified 31 potential release sites at Holloman. Two years later, in 2018, contractors tested five areas to determine if PFAS were present in soil, sediment, ground or surface water.

Budget talks for New Mexico energy, water and environment agencies

Each session of the New Mexico Legislature, it’s tempting to rush to cover bills, some of which never make it out of committee, let alone get signed into law. There’s no doubt many important bills are winding their way through the legislature this year—related to renewable energy, healthy soils and pollution fines. But this year, I’m kicking off environment coverage of the 2019 session by looking at what three critical agencies have to work with in terms of budgets and responsibilities. On Friday, the heads of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), New Mexico Environment Department (NEMD) and the Office of the State Engineer presented to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. The top staffers were there to answer questions about their department’s budgets, one version recommended by the Legislative Finance Committee analysts and another recommended by the governor’s office.

Shutdown is over, but federal workers remain uncertain

On Monday, federal employees will return to work. For now. After more than 30 days, the partial federal shutdown ended Friday. During that time, almost 11,000 New Mexicans—and 800,000 people nationwide—were either furloughed or working without pay. But many people remain wary, given that the deal worked out between Congress and the White House only reopens the government for three weeks, through February 15.

NM Environment Review: Holtec hearings, news from the Roundhouse + more

All week, we look for stories that help New Mexicans better understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around the region. Thursday morning, that news goes out via email. To subscribe to that weekly email, click here. Here’s a snippet of what subscribers read this week:

• Susan Montoya Bryan with the Associated Press has a story about U.S. Regulatory Commission hearings on the proposed Holtec site in southeastern New Mexico, where nuclear waste from commercial power plants would be “temporarily” stored until the United States builds a permanent repository. The Albuquerque Journal’s Maddy Hadden is following the story, as well as Adrian Hedden with the Carlsbad Current-Argus and Marisa Demarco atKUNM.

For Haaland, climate change is ‘worth losing sleep over’

Elected in November to represent New Mexico’s First Congressional District, Rep. Deb Haaland is among the first of two Native women to join the U.S. Congress. Focusing on her background, national magazines and television programs profiled her even before she swooped to victory on Election Day, outpacing her nearest opponent by more than 20 points. After her first week in Congress, we’d agreed to meet at the Albuquerque BioPark’s Botanic Garden to talk about climate change. And on a cold, cloudy morning, we ducked inside the garden’s faux-cave, complete with giant toadstools and plaster footprints of prehistoric creatures. Neither warm, nor particularly quiet, the cave is a uniquely terrible place to conduct an interview.

Federal shutdown continues to hammer at New Mexicans

Speaking in downtown Albuquerque Monday afternoon, New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall called the federal shutdown—currently in its 31st day—“sheer madness.”

According to what Udall called “conservative” estimates, 10,800 federal employees in New Mexico are working without pay or have been furloughed. The shutdown is also affecting government contractors and local economies. “I’ve heard from merchants all around Albuquerque, ‘We’re not seeing the business, people are not coming out to restaurants, they’re not coming out to stores,’” he said. And the longer the shutdown lasts, the deeper the economic impacts will be. The shutdown, he added, is hurting the country’s ability to move forward.